31 Days of Horror – Why Curse of the Demon Still Scares Us

A color lobby card from 1957’s Curse of the Demon

When folks think classic horror, sometimes they think of the silent days, sometimes of the Universal boom of the 1930s, some folks even think of the slasher flicks of the 1980s. There are exceptions along the way however, one or two classics from the old days that rise above the rest. The British horror from 1957, Curse of the Demon, is one of those. More after the jump.

Pregame

Before I ever saw Curse of the Demon, or Night of the Demon as it was known in the UK, I knew three things about it. I knew about it from “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” the opening credits song for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, featuring the lyric, “Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes, and passing them used lots of skills (yay, skills).” Sorry, I slipped into Rocky mode there for a moment.

I also knew two lines of dialogue (“It’s coming. It’s in the trees.”) were used from the movie in Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love.” And finally from listening to AM radio’s Mr. Movie Steve Friedman, I knew that the sometimes ridiculous giant demon was added after shooting was done, and against the director’s wishes because, like a Chekov play, if there’s a demon in the title, there’d better be a demon in the movie. Yes, sometimes apparently, viewers are that dumb.

Dana Andrews and Peggy Cummins

But that’s all I knew the first time I saw the flick. When I finally did however, I was blown away. Curse of the Demon is one of the classics of horror. Directed by Jacques Tourneur and based on the story “Casting the Runes” by Montague R. James, this is one of the scarier black and white British horror entries from the 1950s. While Americans were obsessed with rock and roll and flying saucers, the Brits were creating real horror.

Dana Andrews plays an American psychologist, and strident disbeliever, who is investigating the Satanic cult of Karswell that is apparently responsible for a series if murders – by a demon, summoned by runes. Peggy Cummins is an adequate Margo Lane to Andrews’ somewhat stubborn Lamont Cranston. Niall MacGinnis is an intriguing and affable villain, devilish goatee and all.

An example of Tourneur’s use of shadow and atmosphere.

The deeper into the investigation Dana gets, the less the disbeliever he becomes, until… well now, that would be telling. Andrews and crew debate and intrigue throughout without boring the audience. The dialogue and think points are almost as engaging as the scares. It’s a very smart film.

The Visuals

Director Tourneur takes great advantage of the black and white to create an atmosphere, which along with Clifton Parker’s score, make Curse of the Demon a hard film to watch with the lights out. Tourneur also gets extra points for using shadow in a way that would make Val Lewton or the greats of German silent horror cinema jealous. Yeah, it’s that good.

The Demon

There are some cheesy effects, biggest of all, the demon, but once you start watching, you will be pulled into the world of the movie – and unlike Dana Andrews, you will believe. Despite what you are shown, Curse of the Demon is one of those films, much like the original The Haunting, that what you’re not seeing (and are imagining) is even scarier than what you do see. Recommended, not just by me, but also Steve Friedman, Rocky Horror author Richard O’Brien, and Kate Bush.

5 Replies to “31 Days of Horror – Why Curse of the Demon Still Scares Us”

  1. I remember watching this film on creature double feature and I liked it. Glenn you have such a great way of presenting and reviewing a movie, that I’m tempted to wait until your reviews before watching another movie. You point out the fun things that make a movie great and a lot of times, I miss picking these clues up when I’m watching the film. Great review

  2. One of my favorites. It was on a list Rue Morgue published a few years back about lesser known gems in the horror genre. Really cool stuff.

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